Beach Starts and Water Starts:

When the going gets tough ...

by: Marc Lefebvre

If I had to decide on what is the most tiring part of windsurfing for the beginner, intermediate and advanced windsurfer, it would be uphauling the sail. If you are on a shortboard and have a fully cambered sail in choppy surf this compounds the problem. It can be downright exhausting trying to get the sail out of the water. Well, this is why the beachstart and the waterstart were invented. You don't have to install sheet rock for a living to have the strength to beachstart or waterstart. It actually can be quite effortless when you know what you are doing and there is enough wind. Below I will outline how to beachstart and then progress into a waterstart because they are very much related.

  1. start in enough water to clear the fin.
  2. point the board away from the beach on a slightly broad reach.
  3. holding the boom near the mast, the clew should be down wind.
  4. grasp the boom with your other hand. You should feel the sail trying to pull you.
  5. place your back foot between the back and front foot strap. Do not step on the board just place it there.
  6. sheet in with your rear hand by bending your elbow, keep your front arm straight while tilting the rig forward. The sail should be REALLY pulling now. This applies mast foot pressure (MFP).
  7. while sheeting in, step forward, putting your weight on your back foot and push off with your front foot.
  8. once you're up, sheet out so as to not catapult and now your moving.
Trouble-Shooting:
  1. I can't get pulled up onto the board.

    This is caused either by not enough wind to get going or you haven't powering the sail up enough. Remember, to power up the sail means to sheet in by bending your rear elbow, keeping your front arm straight, and tilting the rig forward. Also, you may need to position yourself closer to the board so that when you fully extend your arms the sail will be flying higher and therefore pulling you more.

  2. I keep sinking the tail of the board.

    You need to not step with your weight early on. Let the sail pull you up, committing your weight then, using mast foot pressure to balance.

  3. Once I get on the board I fall back on my butt.

    You are committing too much weight to the rig too soon. If you are under powered, bend your knees more when you are on the board rather than leaning out over the water.

  4. I keep rounding up into the wind.

    To avoid this, lean the rig forward and power up a bit. Do not stand straight up or lean toward the rig, ever!! Falling in backwards is OK. Falling in on the downwind side is inexcusable. Never do it!

When you fall (which you will do relatively soon) swim or walk the board back to shallow water and repeat the beach start until you feel comfortable with it. Once you have this down you are ready to learn the waterstart.

The waterstart is very much like a beachstart. The best way to learn to waterstart is to beachstart in a place that gradually gets deeper than knee deep. As you get better, just make your starts from deeper and deeper water until you are making them in water which is chest deep. From this point, learning to waterstart is really easy. Someone once gave me advice that helped a whole lot, they said, "Waterstarting is like pulling a sheet over your head, you have get really under the boom...". Think about this when you are at the stage of getting out of the water.

The first thing to do in a waterstart is to get your rig oriented properly. To this day, the one thing that takes the most energy for me is getting my rig into position for a waterstart.

The rig needs to be positioned with the mast perpendicular to the wind and the clew downwind. The board should be facing slightly downwind on a broad reach and the rear facing you with your back to the wind. This may seem easy to the untrained eye but it can be quite a pain. Here are some tricks to make it easier and always remember to let the wind do the work, not you:

  1. mast is pointing upwind.

    Swim the rig so that the rig is perpendicular to the wind. Always swim away from your clew not towards it. Otherwise you will sink the rig.

  2. clew is upwind.

    If the clew is upwind, you have to swim around to the clew and lift it. The wind will catch the sail and flip it over so that the clew is downwind.

  3. board is pointing upwind.

    To get the board to point down wind grab the nose of the board and while holding the boom by the mast, push down on the nose and up on the boom. You can use your feet to finish the job by pushing the nose away from you

Now your board should be in perfect position and ready to start.
  1. clear the sail by lifting the boom and place it on the stern of the board so that the mast/boom connection will be resting on the rear of the board. If it doesn't make it then lower booms and/or move your mast track forward.
  2. fly the sail by lifting up on the rig above the boom connection and pushing down on the rear of the board for leverage, so that the wind will catch the sail and fly it. Then grab the rear of the boom with your other hand and move your front hand to the boom. Fly the sail overhead, keeping the board on a beam reach and keeping the mast perpendicular to the wind.
  3. place your rear foot on the board in front of the rear strap and use your front foot to swim against the drift of the board. This will provide more lifting force for you to get on the board.
  4. while powering up the sail bend your knee so that you are closer to the board and the rig is flying higher. You should be moving a bit now. This applies mast foot pressure (MFP) and helps the board bear off.
  5. with your front foot kick like you are swimming and place more weight on your front arm as the sail pulls you out of the water and forward. You actually swing your weight forward, toward the mast base.
  6. once you are up sheet out and you are on your way.
Here are a few helpful tips to remember:
  1. Lower booms make waterstarting easier (shorter lever arm) but sailing more difficult. You may want to lower your booms a bit after you know how to sail pretty well and are just working on waterstarts. After you have waterstarts down, start moving them back
  2. A life vest makes sail handling in the water less tiring.
  3. Flat water makes EVERYTHING much easier.
  4. Rig with LOTS of downhaul to lock the draft forward in your sail. A poorly balanced rig can make all of the steps much more difficult.
  5. Rig to be overpowered, it will accelerate the whole learning process.
  6. Also, the trouble shooting tips for beachstarts also apply to the waterstart.

So now you think you know how to waterstart. Well each time you waterstart it will be different because of wind, the waves, or the sail you have rigged, so keep practicing in varied conditions and don't give up. And don't be too quick to throw away that uphaul line once you have learned to waterstart, when there isn't enough wind to waterstart you're going to need it to get home!


Marc A. Lefebvre (lefebvre@ultranet.com)